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Match preview: FC Cincinnati vs Philadelphia Union

Photo: Ruairi Rossi

Who: FC Cincinnati vs Philadelphia Union

What: MLS Cup Playoffs, Eastern Conference Semifinal

Where: TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio

When: Saturday, November 25, 8:00 p.m. Eastern

Watch: Apple TV – MLS Season Pass

Whistle: Not available at time of publication

At long last, Philadelphia Union resume their quest for MLS Cup on Saturday night, traveling to TQL Stadium to take on Supporters’ Shield winners FC Cincinnati in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinal.

In last season’s tightly contested game, Leon Flach got the game-winning goal in the 59th minute, handing the Union a 1-0 win in Chester.

Now, though, the setting is in Cincinnati, where the Union have lost in each of the last two regular seasons.

With a win tomorrow, the Union would advance to their third consecutive Eastern Conference Final, this time on the road against the winner of Saturday’s Orlando City-Columbus Crew match.

With a loss, the offseason begins earlier than anyone in Chester would want.

Scouting Report: FC Cincinnati

The Ohioans are, in many ways, a squad built in the Union’s image.

They’re led by general manager Chris Albright and recently crowned Coach of the Year Pat Noonan, both poached from Philadelphia. And their roster features three Union alumni – Ray Gaddis, Sergio Santos, and Alvas Powell.

But Cincinnati have much greater financial resources, and they’ve used that to build one of MLS’s best rosters. At their heart is attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta, who will almost certainly be crowned the league’s MVP in the coming days. The diminutive playmaker poured in 17 goals and 14 assists in the regular season, averaging just under one goal involvement in each of his 32 appearances.

Up top, U.S. international Brandon Vazquez and midseason signing Aaron Boupendza do much of the damage. Both players scored in the last matchup between these two sides back in September, helping Cincinnati fight back from a two-goal deficit to claim a point.

The biggest question is how Noonan will manage the absence of Defender of the Year Matt Miazga, who picked up an idiotic second yellow card in their second playoff game against New York Red Bulls and are suspended for this match.

The Union will also need to manage the dynamic threat of left back Alvaro Barreal, who’s had a breakout season.

Injury Report: None

Scouting Report: Philadelphia Union

While the long break between matches has given the Union time to recover after a punishingly long campaign, manager Jim Curtin will still be dealing with some key absences on Saturday night.

Star defender Jakob Glesnes remains out after getting sports hernia surgery. Midfielder Leon Flach had the same surgery during the international break, ending his season. And left back Kai Wagner remains suspended after using a racial slur against Revs attacker Bobby Wood during the last playoff series.

If the Union are going to advance, they’ll need their patchwork defense to contain Acosta and Cincy’s dangerous attackers. Midfielder Jose Martinez will need an immense game in the middle of the park, playing in front of the anticipated backline of center backs Jack Elliott and Damion Lowe, right back Olivier Mbaizo, and left back Nathan Harriel (playing out of position).

In midfield, the grizzled old vet and the eager young rookie — Alejandro Bedoya and Jack McGlynn — will be under the spotlight, while the attacking trio of Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza, and Mikael Uhre will need to be at their sharpest.

Injury Report: OUT: Jakob Glesnes, Leon Flach; SUSPENDED: Kai Wagner

Key Matchup: Jose Martinez vs. Luciano Acosta

Two of the best in MLS going head-to-head — that’s what the playoffs are all about. Martinez has had some excellent playoff performances in his time with the Union, but the moment has overwhelmed him other times. Keeping Acosta in check will go a long way toward keeping the Union’s season going.

Player to Watch: Olivier Mbaizo

The Cameroon international will have his hands full with the dangerous Barreal. It’s a matchup Curtin might typically entrust to Harriel, but Wagner’s suspension means that the Homegrown will be monitoring the right side.

Prediction: Philadelphia 1-2 FC Cincinnati

What a match this could be. Two sides that are very familiar with each other’s tactical approaches and very competitive on the pitch. There are certainly ways the Union could get the win — incisive finishing by the attacking trio top of the list — but it’s hard to pick them on the road given the significant defensive absences.


  1. I generally agree with your prediction, Peter. However, this result really can go either way. I think you overlook the importance of Cincinnati missing both CB’s (Haglund out for injury to go along with Miazga’s suspension.). The final score, for me, is more likely 3-2 Cincinnati, and I regretfully only pick Cincinnati because they are at home.

  2. What a safe prediction. We have the talent to win this match, just really hope we have the discipline & mental strength. I say the Union front three team up to get on the board first and the game seesaws until a tie breaker at the end by the U for a 3-2 win

  3. Worse next Year says:

    Cincy will win, see?

  4. PaulContinuum22 says:

    It ends tomorrow, I fear. The coyote ugly way they backdoor-ed into the playoffs, beating a NE side even more dysfunctional than they are…and the window of opportunity will slam shut, maybe for good. A damning indictment of coaching and ownership. They have not offered one iota or shred of confidence they can hang with Cincy. And yet Curtin is signed through 2024, yes?

  5. Murphthesurf says:

    Go ye not to the cliff of despair yet !
    Miracles do happen.

    Does this go straight to penalties if it ends in a tie ?

  6. Here are the game officials.
    REF: Ismail Elfath
    AR1: Cameron Blanchard
    AR2: Jeremy Kieso
    4TH: Allen Chapman
    VAR: Kevin Stott
    AVAR: Kyle Atkins

  7. Yeah, we’re underdogs given the money investments (chronic problem), ex-Philly talents who know us, and key absences. I’ll offer one motivating factor…a guaranteed home final if we make it. We win these two on the road, and we’re playing the final in Philly against a weaker West team.
    . . .
    You’re never out until you’re out. It’s a time where the players tomorrow need to believe in themselves and the opportunities to make their mark. Time to step up lads and seize the opportunities. Fortune favors the bold.

  8. Negadelphia, ok cincy has home field, but I think a rested Union team will come out hard and fast. A couple of hard challanges on Acosta early will slow him down and send a signal. Martinez should irritate and harass him early and often. Just don’t do anything stupid. Caranza and crew should be well rested. This is Potentially Bedoyas last game. He will be all in for this match. I See this going into PKs with Velasquez kicking over the net and Bedoya hitting the winner. Poetic Justice

  9. Philadelphia’s own game guide lists Jakob Glesnes as questionable, not out.

  10. These teams are extremely close in talent and their last 4 matches including last year’s playoff win have been tight. In the past Referee Elfath has allowed a lot of physical play, which favors the Union with Cincinnati’s chief thug, Matt Miazga, out. Can El Brujo contain Acosta (and use his one yellow card wisely)? We shall see in a couple of hours.

  11. PaulContinuum22 says:

    Fork you, Union, fork you to the bottom level of hell.

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